The Labour Party has been thrown into turmoil after one of its ministers announced she was quitting to join the Māori Party.
Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri blindsided her boss, the Prime Minister, who was in the air on his way to London when news broke. She didn’t even tell her closest colleagues about what she was planning.
She’s now been removed as a minister but appears to have hung onto her job as an MP by a technicality.
It was a mega Meka bombshell.
“I have officially notified the Speaker that I have resigned from the New Zealand Labour Party and have joined Te Pāti Māori effective immediately,” Whaitiri said.
“As the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti sitting MP, I intend to be seated with Te Pāti Māori when we return to Parliament.”
Whaitiri, a minister in the Labour Government, was pledging allegiance to another party – Te Pāti Māori.
“The decision to cross the floor is not an easy one, but it’s the right one,” she said.
It completely caught her colleagues unawares when murmurs started on Tuesday night.
“Let’s just wait and see tomorrow,” Labour’s Aupito William Sio told Newshub.
They were still no clearer on Wednesday morning. MPs said they were aware of media reports and were waiting to see what happened later in the day.
Even Whaitiri’s boss had no clue. The Prime Minister landed in London to confusion and chaos – an errant minister he hadn’t even heard from.
“Typically, they’d speak to their party leaders before making those announcements. I haven’t heard from her yet,” Chris Hipkins said early on Wednesday.
Whaitiri later said: “He will have seen the announcement that I’ve made.”
Whaitiri went to ground refusing to talk to her party.
“She never rung me or contacted me. That was disappointing,” said Labour’s Willie Jackson.
Labour dispatched Kiri Allan, who drove all the way to the coast and back.
The deputy Prime Minister and deputy Labour leader were left to deal with it in the boss’s absence.
“We had no idea. We are disappointed, but her reasons are her reasons,” said deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis.
“It’s disappointing and clearly it’s unexpected,” said deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni.
“We haven’t had a reason either.”
In Whaitiri’s own words, she is going home.
“It’s my calling. It’s who I am as a Māori,” she said.
She’s been set free, she said.
“She’s unlocked the shackles and emancipated me.”
In switching sides, she’s effectively turfing out Te Pāti Māori’s already selected Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidate, her cousin Heather Te Au-Skipworth.
“I’m honest. It was hard. It was hard,” said Te Au-Skipworth.
It’s thrown the Labour campaign into turmoil. But Davis said the wheels aren’t falling off the bus.
The Labour Party had an option to kick Whaitiri out of Parliament.
Sepuloni said Labour wouldn’t waka-jump Whaitiri out of Parliament.
“We don’t feel the need to invoke that.”
It’s caused a cerebral and comedic constitutional clash over whether Whaitiri had accidentally waka-jumped herself by emailing the Speaker.
The Speaker ultimately ruled Whaitiri is both an independent MP but also still part of the Labour Party.
“She’s asked me and has informed me that she has withdrawn her proxy from the Labour Party and wishes to sit somewhere else. That’s it,” said Speaker Adrian Rurawhe.
It may be his final ruling on the matter, but it’s certainly not the end of the Meka mess for Labour.